William Stafford is the author of one of my favourite poems, Traveling through the Dark. According to his daughter, and to his own account, he used to begin his daily writing process by making notes about everyday matters: shopping lists and so on. He sat alone in the early morning and wrote down whatever occurred to him, following his impulses. “If I am to keep writing,” he explained, “I cannot bother to insist on high standards…. I am following a process that leads so wildly and originally into new territory that no judgment can at the moment be made about values, significance, and so on…. I am headlong to discover.”
We tried this recently in my writers’ group. Lena had brought in some scrap paper with advertisements for lawn mowers on the reverse. Looking at these, she made a note that her husband “mowed the lawn yesterday. He managed to get it finished between showers of rain, largely because he didn’t use the bag to collect the cuttings but just let them lie where they fell in clumps and streaks”. I picked up the theme and after a bit of thought wrote a poem that is partly fictional (I don’t possess a lawn mower, or indeed a lawn) but develops the theme …
My father used to mow the lawn
With the Suffolk manual mower.
The blades rotated in their welded cage
As the grass flew into the cover.
He pulled it off the machine
And walked to the top of the garden,
To feed the cuttings to compost.
Each time he had to walk farther
As the mower progressed in its lateral course
Traversing the daisy-free turf.
When he finally reached the foot of the lawn
There was no more to mow. Only earth
Remained, to be fertilised
With the dregs of the compost bin
Filled with months of mowings
My father had thrown in.
My power mower returns the cuttings
To the earth in a fertile mulch.
No lifting or carrying needed.
I finish the job before lunch.